What is DevOps? Gene Kim Explains


Gene Kim is an author of the popular DevOps Novel, The Phoenix Project, and the upcoming DevOps Handbook, currently scheduled for release in October. He was formerly the founder and CTO of Tripwire, but these days you can find him writing books, organizing the DevOps Enterprise Summit, and working on research and other projects as a co-founder of IT Revolution.

Linux.com: Why are so many organizations embracing DevOps?

Gene Kim: I think the simplest answer is that the business value of adopting DevOps is even higher than we thought! From 2013 through 2016, as part of the Puppet “State Of DevOps Report” initiative, along with Jez Humble, Dr. Nicole Forsgren, Alanna Brown and Nigel Kersten, we’ve surveyed over 25,000 technology professionals with the goal of better understanding the health and habits of organizations at all stages of DevOps adoption.

The first surprise the data from the 2015 and 2016 reports revealed was how much the high-performing organizations using DevOps practices were outperforming their non-high-performing peers in the following areas:

  • Throughput metrics
    • More frequent code and change deployments (200x more frequent)
    • Faster code and change deployment lead time (255x faster)
  • Reliability metrics
    • More successful production deployments (3x lower change failure rate)
    • Faster mean time to restore service (24x faster MTTR)
  • Organizational performance metrics
    • Productivity, market share, and profitability goals (2 times more likely to exceed)
    • Market capitalization growth (50% higher over three years)

In other words, the high performers were both more agile and more reliable. And furthermore, high performers also were twice as likely to exceed profitability, market share, and productivity goals, and for those organizations that provided a stock ticker symbol, we found that the high performers had 50% higher market capitalization growth over three years. They also had higher employee job satisfactions, lower rates of employee burnout.

All that makes for a compelling reason for doing things a better way than we’ve traditionally done for decades!

Linux.com: Why are individuals interested in participating?

Gene Kim is author of The Phoenix Project and co-founder of IT Revolution.
Gene: That is a great question! I think there are two findings that came out of the 2015 and 2016 reports that may explain why so many of us are so passionate about DevOps. We found in 2015, high performers had significantly lower levels of burnout than lower performers. Burnout is an important issue in IT, with serious repercussions for the mental and physical health of practitioners. Research shows that stressful jobs can be as bad for physical health as smoking and obesity. Symptoms of burnout include feeling exhausted, cynical or ineffective; feeling little or no sense of accomplishment in your work; and feelings about your work negatively affecting the rest of your life. In extreme cases, burnout can lead to family issues, severe clinical depression and even suicide.

That’s on the negative size — on the positive side, we found in 2016 that employees in high performers were 2.2x more likely to recommend their organization to a friend as a great place to work. The specific measure is called the “employee Net Promoter Score,” which other studies have shown that this is correlated with better business outcomes.

I think this shows that work is simply more fun and satisfying when you can quickly see the outcomes of your work, whether you’re Dev, Test, Ops, or even Information Security!

Linux.com: What is the overwhelming hurdle?

Gene: This was a question that we wanted to understand, as well. For the last three years, I’ve been hosting the DevOps Enterprise Summit, which is focused on leaders who are driving DevOps transformations in large, complex organizations. Over the years, we’ve had over 150 speakers present their amazing experience reports, each given in a very specific form:

  • what business problem were they trying to solve
  • where did they start and why
  • what did they do
  • what were their outcomes and what did they learn
  • what do they still not know how to do and what are they looking for help with

The last question was there so that we could understand the largest obstacles facing the DevOps Enterprise community. By knowing this, we can create a research agenda of the problems that we need better answers on. Here are some of the top issues that have come up in the last three years:

  • How do we build automated testing for legacy applications?
  • What are modern architectural and technical practices that every technology leader needs to know about? What are best ways to transition existing practices, including metrics, reskilling the workforce, and mitigating risks?
  • What do the organization charts look like for organizations successfully adopting DevOps? What are the respective roles and responsibilities, and how has it changed from more traditional IT organizations?
  • What are effective strategies and methods for leading change in large organizations?
  • What are concrete ways for DevOps to bridge the information security and compliance gap, to show auditors and regulators that effective controls exist to effectively prevent, detect and correct problems?

Over the years, we’ve assembled some of the best thinkers and doers in the community to generate written guidance on these topics, and released them at the DevOps Enterprise Summit. We have made their guidance available as a series of documents.

Linux.com: What advice would you give to people who want to get started in DevOps?

Gene: In my mind, there’s never been a more fun time to be in technology! So many of the things that prevented us from building cool things are so easy now, whether it’s development frameworks, continuous deployment pipeline tools, deployment automation, monitoring, etc. And especially in Operations, I think the best times are ahead of us, not behind us.

I think the fastest way to learn is conferences, because you’re surrounded by kindred spirits and fellow travelers. One of my favorite sayings is, “You’re only as smart as the top five people you hang out with,” and conferences are a great place to find these people. Among my favorites are the Velocity Conference, GOTOcon, and the DevOps Enterprise Summit.

Also, books are great. Some of my favorites include

  • Continuous Delivery: Reliable Software Releases through Build, Test, and Deployment Automation by Jez Humble and David Farley
  • Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change for Your Technology Business by David J. Andersen
  • The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement by Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt
  • Release It!: Design and Deploy Production-Ready Software by Michael Nygard
  • And of course, the upcoming DevOps Handbook: How to Create World-Class Agility, Reliability, and Security in Technology Organizations by Jez Humble, Patrick Debois John Willis, and me.

Read more interviews with DevOps experts:

Bridget Kromhout is a global core organizer for DevOpsDays, is on the program committee for Velocity, and is a Principal Technologist for Cloud Foundry at Pivotal.

Mark Imbriaco has spent the past 20 years working at some of the most interesting and innovative companies in the industry, including 37Signals, GitHub, and DigitalOcean before moving on to become Co-Founder and CEO at Operable.